02. September 2020 · Comments Off on Another Snippet From The WIP · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

(The writing on this is going very fast – I might yet be able to bring it out in time for Christmas. What with the Commie Crud responsible for cancelling market events and fairs right and left, I’ve got nothing much else to concentrate on.)

Letter, dated 20 May 1942, postmarked Fort Slocum, New Rochelle, NY

Dear Peg:

So happy to hear your wonderful news! Does the Baby Bungle Olivia look like a Becker or a Morehouse! Is Little Tommy pleased with his new little sister? I can hardly wait to see pictures of her, and I suppose that her grandmother and step-grandfather are spoiling her every much as she (and you deserve!) Their house sounds so pleasant, in the word-picture that you draw for me. It is all for the very best that you have such a lovely home for now with Stanley and Edith. It is so very reassuring in these times to have normal things like babies to take pleasure in, even at a distance of a wide ocean and most of a continent. As for myself, we are engaged in the pleasant occupation of sewing. The powers-that-be have finally conceded that we military nurses simply cannot be expected to wear our traditional white outfits when we are operating in a field hospital. Are you pleasantly surprised at their grasp of the painfully obvious? Alas, they have not been able to agree on anything the least bit official and practical in this regard, and in the meantime, the interim solution is to issue us all several sets of Army overalls, which would be practical, except that … these garments are sized for men. Very large, very tall men! I tried on one of mine at first, to general hilarity. My friend and roommate, Ruth N. said, “Vennie, don’t you dare sneeze, or you’ll lose everything!” Honestly, one might have put two of me in these overalls or made them to serve as a shelter with the addition of a couple of tent-poles! We are busily employed in tailoring them to fit, or at the very least, to present a not so ridiculous appearance. We have also been issued helmets for use in the field. In overalls and helmet, I look like nothing so much as a large mushroom. I cannot even begin to find a pair of boots small enough to fit my feet, not without wearing several layers of heavy woolen socks. I am a martyr to blisters.

You asked in one of your letters, if I had heard anything more from my friend Helen Drinkwater, who trained with me at Sealy. She is a prisoner of war, I am afraid, as were all the Army and Navy nurses remaining on Corregidor. I had a brief note from her last month, carried by one of those who were sent out from there at the last minute before the Japs overwhelmed the fortress and tunnel complex. She said that she was well and hoped to continue being able to care for her patients, and that she would not have done anything the least bit different.

Has there been any word of Tommy? You would think, had the Japs any decency, that they would make a list of prisoners available to the Red Cross.



Letter, dated 15 August 1942, postmarked APO, New York

Dear Peg:

Well, are you surprised at receiving this letter? I am in England now at regular garrison camp in a location which the censor likely will not allow me to name, with (redacted unit). There is a certain large prehistorical stone monument usually attributed to the Druids some miles distant from where I am now, which might give you a clue to the general area. I think this is not far from where your grandmother was born.

We could not say anything to anyone – loose lips sink ships, as it says on all the posters – nor can I say anything about the trip ‘across the pond’ except that it was refreshingly dull, against all of our worst fears. It was still a relief to be lightered off the ship, to look back and see how big it was, at anchor, and then to set foot on solid ground again. We came by train from the port of arrival – and I cannot say exactly how long the journey was – again, loose lips, et cetera.

What did I think of England, though? Oh, dear Peg – everything is small, terribly quaint – and I must confess, comparatively made sad, grey, and dreary by three years of war and rationing of every blessed thing you can imagine, even though it is late summer. There are boarded-up windows everywhere, and even those which still have glass in them are covered with ‘X’ of tape in every pane. There are sandbag barriers in front of important buildings, and not a road-sign to be seen, anywhere out in the country. At night, the blackout is almost complete. You could see the stars … that is, if it weren’t for rain. Rain in late summer – what a bizarre thing! We were at leisure for a number of days, and Ruth N., Muriel P. and I took the train to London to see the sights, such as they are. We got to look at the Tower of London from a distance, and admire Parliament, the tower of Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey – but oh, you cannot imagine the hopelessness of seeing row after row of bombed-out buildings, and not a sign of rebuilding. Those streets of houses on the outskirts of London and other towns seemed inexpressibly dreary, for the sameness of dark red brick all grimed over with black coal soot. But the people we met all along the way were most splendid to us, and the conductor on the train took the time to explain the money to us; a dear little man with an artificial leg and a country accent that we could hardly make sense of sometimes. (Neither could we make sense of the money, either – and not for lack of him trying!) He was a soldier on the Somme in the last war, you see, and couldn’t do enough for us when he found out that we were Army nurses. Most people that we met were thrilled to bits, and treated us almost as if we were Hollywood stars, although there was that one gentleman in the café  who grumbled, “Well, it was about time that Americans got into it!” but the waitress apologized for him, and upon finding out that I was raised on a ranch and knew all about roundups and cattle drives and all that – she asked bashfully if I knew Mr. Gary Cooper personally.

Well, such was our brief holiday. I have bought some English picture-books at Foyle’s the bookshop for little Tommy as a Christmas present from your devoted Cuz. I will try to mail them to you when I can – and hope that they arrive in time. I like to think that they will have a shorter journey, going from England to Australia now!



We received a letter a few days ago from the sponsoring organization for the Giddings Word Wrangler; this an event that my daughter and I have participated in as authors for at least five or six years. Most usually in September, it was rescheduled to November, and then cancelled entirely for 2020. We are quite disappointed at this, but thoroughly understand the concerns which led to this.

In a normal year, it was the bash that kicked off our fall/winter event season, where we signed up for local markets, a couple of craft fairs, and one or two other strictly book events. The drive to Giddings meant an overnight stay, and in recent years two nights, since we volunteered to do talks at the local middle school English classes. It was a chance to relish some small town doings, meet up with other authors – a good few of whom we had hung out with before at other book events. Alas, we’ll have to wait until next near to visit again. I honestly am resigned to the fact that most Christmas markets and fairs will be cancelled this year. The Christmas craft fair in Bulverde is held mostly in an indoors venue, the senior center – and that has been closed for all intents and purposes since March. About the only one that I can see happening might be Miss Ruby’s Author Corral at Christmas on the Square in Goliad, which is all outdoors.

So – we’ll see. Looking on the bright side, not being committed to exhausting, day-long events with a long drive to and from, gives me a bit more writing time on weekends.

25. August 2020 · Comments Off on Another Snippet from The W-I-P · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

(Which I am considering titling it “My Dear Cuz”)

(Peg, Little Tommy and their friend Ada Dawlish are about to leave Singapore)

At the appointed hour Ada and Peg waited impatiently in Arthur’s sitting room. Their suitcases were already outside under the port cochère. It was just before twilight, a twilight darkened by a pall of black oil smoke spewing from the refinery at Pulau Bukom. Rumor in the Dalvey Road had it that the Shell tanks and refinery had been deliberately set ablaze, Little Tommy sat on the steps to the house, engaged in a lively but imaginary talk with Teddy-Pooh, while Ang and Miss Hui lingered there, keeping watch and speaking quietly to each other. Ada didn’t understand a word of Chinese, but they sounded worried. Arthur, already clad in his ARP overall, was reading the Straits Times, by the light of a single light in the room.

There was little to say that hadn’t already been said, and the two women waited in silence. It was fairly quiet at the moment, only the distant grumble of airplane engines from the direction of the docks. Almost certainly Japanese – they had not seen an RAF aircraft in weeks. There was an amusing and slightly incredible story on the front page, concerning an Australian sniper who had ‘counted coup’ against the Japs by having a fellow soldier ventriloquist distract attention by throwing his voice. Peg was not sure if she believed it or not – it had the ring of a ‘tall tale’ such as the old ranch hands at the Becker place had often told.

Finally, Arthur set aside the Times, remarking, “I hear a car coming up the road – I suppose it’s young Gregory. Are you ready, my dears?”

“We are,” Ada replied, settling her hat on her head, and pulling on her light coat. “Thank you for everything, Art … I don’t know…” her voice caught, and then she recovered. “If Reg or Tommy comes here, looking for us. Well, you know … you really ought to think about getting away, yourself, you know.”

“Why should I?” Arthur replied, calmly. “Not the done thing to turn coward and run away, Ada my dear. Besides, women and children first.”

“Birkenhead drill,” Ada sounded as if she were caught between laughing and crying. “Silly old Art. Well, take care of yourself, old thing. I’ll try and send a wire when we get to Australia.”

“You do that,” Arthur replied comfortably, although Peg was thinking that such a message would be unlikely to be sent, if and when the Japs took Singapore. Arthur kissed his younger sister casually, as if she were departing for an afternoon at the Club. Silently, Peg donned her own hat and followed after.

The auto engine sounded louder, as it crept hesitantly along the road. To Peg and Ada’s mutual relief, the vehicle turned in, driving between the gateposts before Arthur’s bungalow; a small and battered Ford van with the Royal Dutch Shell company logo emblazoned on the doors.

Peter Gregory emerged from behind the driver’s side door.

“Your carriage awaits, milady, and milady and young lord,” he said, a reckless grin illuminating his face. He was lanky and angular, like Tommy, which was why Peg had noticed him among Arthur’s friends at the Tanglin, and unmistakably a Texan, which made in them kindred spirits in a relatively alien world.

“We were getting worried,” Ada confessed with a laugh. “But you are the hero of the hour, you know.”

“Always happy to come to the aid of ladies in distress, ma’am,” Peter Gregory drawled, so thick and country-Texan that one could slice it with a knife. “I’ll throw your traps in the back … hey, young fella, you an’ that ferocious critter of yours want to come for a ride?”

“We’re going to visit Granny in Brisbane,” Little Tommy announced. He came and stood between Ada and Peg, Teddy-Pooh clutched firmly in one hand. “Are you the syce, then?”

Peg dissolved in an agony of embarrassment. “No, he isn’t,” she reproved her son. “He’s a friend who is going to take is to the dock, to the ship we have to go on, to see Granny Morehouse. Now, come along – we’ll all have to sit on the one seat together, since there isn’t any room in the back, you see.”

“I’ll take him on my lap, then.” Ada said, as Peter Gregory opened the passenger door; and that was how they piled into the van; Peg in the middle, next to Peter Gregory, and Ada next to the door with Little Tommy in her lap, and Teddy-Pooh clutched firmly to him, all of them elbow to elbow.

“I had to avoid traffic on the Alexandra Road,” Peter Gregory announced, as he put the van in gear, and they set off, wedged thigh to thigh on the van’s narrow front seat. Overhead, the black cloud of smoke was edged with blood-red and fiery gold. “But I think I shall have to take side streets. To be safe, you see. Slower – but you should be in time for the Empire Star. They’re waiting on other parties, who must come from farther away.”

“Are you making plans for your own escape, then?” That was Ada, blunt as ever. “I don’t think that Singapore will last very much longer.”

“I sure am, ma’am,” Peter Gregory smiled, as cheery as if he were on a peacetime drive in the country. “Me and some other fellows have our eyes on a fine little thirty-footer, moored at an out-of-the-way anchorage. Another day or so, we’ll wrap up our business here, and be on our way. Don’t worry none about us, ma’am. We’ll be fine.”

“If you have a chance to convince my brother to leave,” Ada said, “Can you take him with you?”

“I’ll see what I can do, ma’am,” Peter Gregory replied, his eyes on the road ahead, as the little van bumped along. “But I can’t make any promises – we might have to leave in a hurry.”

“I understand,” Ada replied, and then she was silent, looking out of the van’s windows at the darkening streets. There were few people about, and even fewer lights, because of the air raids. The smoke-dark skies were almost entirely black, by the time they reached the harbor area, and there were many more vehicles of all sorts, as well as pedestrians along the sidewalks, many of them carrying suitcases, rucksacks and unwieldy bundles, moving along like silent and aimless automatons, returning to their houses at night, after taking shelter in fields and gardens from the constant Japanese air raids on the inhabited parts of the city. Eventually they were crowding into the road – many of them soldiers from their packs and flat helmets, straggling along. The little van slowed to a bare crawl.

“I’ll take you as far as I can,” Peter Gregory finally said. “They’re setting up sentry posts and road-blocks close in. You might have to walk after that.”

“We’ll be all right,” Ada assured him.

Peter, with one hand on the steering wheel, put his head out the window, shouting irritably, “Make a space, then – all right? Two women and a kid here for the Empire Star tonight, do you mind?”

Out of the darkness several irritated male voices – Australian by their accents – replied with unprintably obscene suggestions and Peter laid on the horn and continued shouting impatiently from the window. That at least got space in the road for the little van to move ahead, closer and closer to the docks.

Against the dark, shielded lamps shed a little light. Out to the west, sunset left a malign red glow against the horizon. Peter Gregory’s little van finally came to a halt at a barricade, where an armed sentry waved him to a halt, and an officer, the muted light reflecting on his gold pips,  shone a shielded battery torch into the van from the passenger side.

“Sorry, sir – further access in’t allowed,” the soldier said apologetically. “Passengers for the evacuation ships have to walk from here.”

“How far, then?” Peg was exhausted, at least as much from tension from the short drive from the Tanglin neighborhood as from the burden of being heavily pregnant.

“Not far,” the officer replied, as he helped Ada and Little Tommy down from their seat. Peg slid out, feeling awkward and clumsy. “Sorry, ma’am – I can’t let your driver go any farther. Do you have your exit papers and passport ready? Oh, jolly good. You’ll need them ready … will you need help with the baggage, ma’am? I’m certain that I can…”

“I would hate to put you to any further trouble,” Ada retorted grandly. “As you have already been so much help!” She had their pair of suitcases, which Peter Gregory handed to her from the back of the van,  one in either hand. It didn’t escape Peg that Peter grinned broadly at that sally, even as Ada thanked him for his care for them on the tension-ridden journey from Arthur’s house.

“I’ll see you soon, then!” He ruffled Little Tommy’s hair, nodded to Ada and shook Peg’s hand. “Safe journey, OK! See you in Australia, then.”

“I’m sure we will,” Peg replied, although she was altogether positive that she would never see Peter Gregory or Arthur Nicholl again, not this side of the grave. “Take care, Peter.”

He waved jauntily and got into the van – turning it with much care, among the fresh crowd, pressing against the guarded barrier. In a moment the van was out of sight. Peg took Little Tommy’s hand, and she and Ada walked along the crowded docks, following a crowd of other women, most of them trailing children and lugging suitcases as they were, although there was a bevy of Australian nurses ahead of them in the straggling column

There was an air raid alarm wailing near at hand. Hardly anyone paid attention, so hardened and accustomed had everyone came to these eventualities, and so urgent was everyone’s need to board that ship – the Empire Star, whose black hull now blocked the view of the harbor. She was a well-traveled and well-known steamship at Singapore and KL, mostly in the business of transporting cold-storage beef from Australia, in which enterprise she made frequent stops at ports all the length of the South China seas. An array of derricks and hoists sprouted from her top deck, all the better to shift cargo with. Not a particularly luxurious transport, but an accommodating one, which offered two-score of private cabins on the first deck for the convenience of travelers in no hurry or need of luxurious accommodation.

Exhausted beyond all but the most basic feelings, Peg took in their cabin, which they were told, they would share with several other woman evacuees and their children.

“I don’t care,” Peg said, crawling into the lowest of the four bunks. She was fully-clothed, sweating from the humid heat in the confines of the tiny cabin. “I just need to lie down. I’m spent, Ada. I need to sleep.” Without a word, Little Tommy joined her.

“There, there, Mummy,” her son said, with all seriousness. “Teddy-Pooh is here, now. Will you sleep well with Teddy-Pooh? I always do. Amah said that I am big and brave now, and Oldest Son. Do you need Teddy-Pooh, Mummy?”

“Not so much,” Peg answered. She hugged Little Tommy and his precious bear to her, lying comfortably at her side on the narrow bunk. “I have you now, sweetheart.”      

Letter, from Peg to Vennie, dated December 27, 1941, postmarked Singapore, Federated Malay States.

Dear Peg:

As you can see from the postmark, Little Tommy and I are safe in Singapore, and staying with Ada Dawlish’s older brother Arthur Nicholl, who keeps a very comfortable home in a pleasant garden suburb of Singapore. All British women and children in Penang and Perak were evacuated at mid-month, by order of the L.D.C., because of the threat from the invading Japanese.  Ada and I traveled together by car to K.L. – a hideously uncomfortable journey. When we parted, at a bare twenty-minutes notice, he gave me all the money that he had left after paying all the estate and household workers as well as his bank book so that I could draw on his account when we reached safety in KL or Singapore. Both Tommy and Ada’s husband Reg had commanded that we should go to Singapore as soon as we could, for safety sake, which is what we did – a journey almost as nerve-wracking as the drive to there from the estate. The train was very slow, often interrupted for no reason that anyone could tell us, other that troop trains had the priority right of way. The war front is somewhere around Jitra, where there is supposed to be a great battle being fought by Indian and Gurkha troops. I have had no word of my husband since his Volunteer company was called to active duty, and he kissed me and our son, said ‘goodbye’ and sent us off with Ada in her husband’s car. He went in the other direction with his fellows in the Company, including Chandeep Singh, who is an old soldier, a veteran of quite a good many big and little wars. I hope that if anything, Chandeep Singh’s good sense and advice will keep my husband safe. There is nothing but rumors – and yet the radio and the Straits Times maintain an air of cheerful assurance about it all. There is said to have been intense fighting up-country. Singapore is full to bursting, with evacuees like myself, and military troops from India, Britain and Australia. There have been air raid alarms most nights, although with very little result that we can see. A range of shops along Raffles Place was hit by Jap bombs overnight. And it’s awful to see, in person, after seeing years of this in newsreels. A place that I knew, where Ada and I had been, the very day before … and the next morning, all blown up, burnt and wrecked. We were both more deeply shocked than we confessed to upon our return to Arthur’s house.

My dear Vennie – it all seems quite surreal. On the surface, everything seems most desperately normal. The tenor of our days, a leisurely breakfast on the shady verandah of Arthurs’s house, looking into the shady garden, a round of shopping, playing with little Tommy, a rest in the afternoon and the usual social round – all very much the life that I have enjoyed since coming to Malaya. Arthur has been the most considerate host. He was employed for many years by the Shell Oil company. He is very much older than Ada, and his house is almost a museum of Oriental objects d’ arte. He is quite the collector in his semi-retirement, so his house is full of beautiful things, as well as having been constructed on the most pleasing and comfortable lines. Quite honestly, I wish that our house on the plantation had been so sensibly designed, instead of built out in every hap-hazard direction as necessity commanded. Ada and I occupy ourselves with much of the same amusements as we did, formerly … but there is a desperate shadow hanging over us, more marked because no one admits it. There is almost a feverish intensity in the air, a wish to behave as if everything were absolutely normal. Ada meets with old friends and goes dancing at the Raffles and playing tennis at the Tanglin. (She says that everyone went out dancing during evenings in the London Blitz in defiance of Mr. Hitler’s bombs and who am I to argue about that?) Arthur has old friends for tiffin in the late afternoon, and I join them, and then rest, and try and pretend for little Tommy that this is all either an exciting adventure – when the air raid siren sounds and the guns go ‘boom’ – or otherwise a perfectly normal visit to friends in Singapore. The amah, Miss Hui, is wonderful in this, behaving as if all is perfectly normal. It reassures little Tommy, but I wonder for how much longer. Little Tommy is such a willful little boy, I don’t know quite how I would manage him, if it were not for Miss Hui.

One of Arthur’s young Shell Oil employee friends is American – and from Houston! Peter Gregory. He says that he spent summers now and again with friends in Galveston. I wonder if you and he ever met there. I do assure you that I am not flirting with him – but oh, Vinnie – how comforting to hear an American accent again, and to speak with someone dearly familiar with Texas, while I wait word from Tommy!

Dearest Vennie, how are you getting along, now that war has begun and we both are a part of it, willy-nilly? Your nurse friend Helen who joined the Army Nurse Corps and was sent to Manila – is there any word of her? I hope for your sake that she is safe – although from the news reports, I fear not; Manila is as much under siege from the beastly Japs as Malaya is. I saw a bevy of Australian Army nurses today and was reminded of you and your friend, who must go where you are needed the most, no matter what the danger.

Singapore is packed full of soldiers, anti-aircraft guns, naval ships and simply awesome land artillery. Everyone says that we can endure a siege, if the worst comes to worst. I wish I could be assured of my husband’s safety – then I could sleep peacefully at night. I have had no word from him since departing from Ipoh. If it were not my own determination to remain close to where he might be, I would be on the next boat to return to Texas and the Becker ranch.

Please write to me soon.

Love, Peg (and Little Tommy.)    

14. August 2020 · Comments Off on A Bit From the New Book… · Categories: Uncategorized

(For which I am accepting suggestions for a title. The basic premise is the WWII experience of two women – cousins and descendants from the Adelsverein Trilogy characters: one is married to an English planter in Malaya, and the other a nurse in the US Army.)

The road to the south, to Kuala Lumpur was crowded, automobiles full of English families crawling slowly along in the afternoon heat. When they passed through a kampong, the pungent smell of garbage on the heavy air; that smoke and stagnant water in the ditches, privies and ponds surrounding the attap houses on stilts made Peg want to vomit. Ada Dawlish drove expertly, her hands clamped onto the wheel of the Dawlish’s Austin sedan, her eyes fixed on the road, and the dusty bumper of the car just ahead, while the sun burned in a pitiless blue sky.  

“Where are we to stay, once we get to KL?” Now that Peg was fully awake, she could think of practical things.

From the front seat, Ada Dawlish answered steely and determined, “I think we should go on to Singapore, just as Reg and Tommy said. We can go to my brother’s place. He’s certain to have room enough. He has a house in the Dalvey Road, near to the Tanglin Club – and if he can’t put us up, he’ll know of a place for you to stay. And when Tommy and Reg get to Singapore, they’ll know where to find us.” The steely resolve cracked, just a bit. “Thank god the girls are in England! Safe enough from all this. I’d have stayed with them there, if we had the slightest hint that something like this would happen! Why can’t we stop those yellow bastards! Isn’t the British Army and Navy good for anything?”

In Miss Hui’s arms, little Tommy stirred from sleep, and murmured something – good heavens, was it in Chinese? Whatever it was, Miss Hui produced a bottle of water from her own bundle of possessions. Little Tommy drank from it, thirstily, and Miss Hui met Peg’s gaze.

“He thirsty, Mem,” was all that she said, and Peg thought guiltily that she should have thought of all that. At the very least, considered that they all should have brought along something cool to drink for the long slow drive to KL. It was a nerve-wracking journey and seemed to take two or three times as long as normal, this slow, dust-clogged journey. More than once, Peg was horrified at the sight of airplanes swooping low over the road, the blood-red ball clear and plain on their wings. She remembered the newsreels, of refugee-clogged roads in France, machine-gunned by German Stuka dive-bombers. The very first time that it happened, Ada saw them coming, a line like the dark wings of gulls in the cloudless sky to the south. Fortune had it that they were at a point in the winding road towards KL where Ada had space to pull the Austin off on the side of the road, a roadside thickly grown with tall trees and rustling stands of cane. Ada set the brake and snapped,

“Everyone out!” Ada flung herself out of the driver side door, and Peg, half-asleep from the heat, tumbled out from the passenger door, Miss Hui and little Tommy on her heels. They crouched among the stands of cane, as the roar of engines overhead blotted out all sound. There a moment, and in another gone, lifting up into the hot blue afternoon sky to the north. Peg picked herself up, comforted her son, who was fractious and frightened. They resumed their seats in the Dawlish’s Austin, seats now hot and sticky from the enervating heat, and continued on.

Sometime in early evening, well after sunset and black-out time (which would have made the roads nearly as perilous as an overt air raid), they finally arrived in the forecourt of the splendors of KL’s enormous and sprawling main station, with the Mughal-style pavilions perched atop the grand staircase columns. Ada Dawlish parked the Austin as close as she could and looked at the keys in her hand.

“I don’t know what I am supposed to do with the car,” she said. “Although – I wish that I could blow it up, to keep the Japs from using it. From what Tommy said, they might be here in a couple of days, maybe as much as a week.”

“Those bastards,” Peg replied, with feeling. “How could this all be happening so fast, Ada? Barely two weeks ago, everything was peaceful … well, not everywhere, but here in Malaya. But everything was calm, ordinary … we had meals on the veranda, went for walks in the garden, played tennis and had stengahs with our friends at the Club … and between one week and the next …”

“I’ll carry your suitcase,” Ada replied, grimly, as if she had not heard a single word. “You shouldn’t be lifting anything heavy in your condition, and damn if I can see any porters around.” She took out the two suitcases, already having her handbag slung like a satchel over her shoulder. “We’re on the run, and running thin, as little as we like facing that reality, Peg. Ever since they sank the Repulse and the Prince of Wales… we’ve been at a disadvantage. Hate to say admit it but we are, and nothing broadcast over the wireless or published in the Straits Times will convince me otherwise. And nothing good will come from giving up Penang and running like cowards. We underestimated the Japs, and now we’re paying the price for arrogance. But Singapore will hold out. It’s a fortress, like Gibraltar, you know. Our chaps will be able to hold – we’re being reinforced from India and Australia. And I wouldn’t count out the Volunteers, no, not by any chalk.”

Peg took Little Tommy’s small hand; Miss Hui had his other hand. Miss Hui had her shapeless rucksack slung over her shoulder. She found Ada’s comment rather bracing; brutal but realistic. At a time like this, brutally realistic had it all over unrealistic hopes, and soothing announcements on the radio. Meanwhile, Ada put the keys to the Austin under the driver seat, and left the door unlocked, saying, “If Reg comes for it, he’ll know where to find them. And if he doesn’t – it means nothing. Let’s go get our tickets, Peg – or if not, get a room at the station hotel or at the Majestic until morning.” She sent a searching look over her shoulder at Peg. “You look exhausted, Peg. You ought to get a good rest, if there isn’t a train tonight. If you lose the sprog to a miscarriage, Tommy will never forgive us.”

“I’m fine,” Peg insisted, for she didn’t feel nearly as frail as everyone insisted that a visibly pregnant woman ought to be. She had bursts of energy, where she honestly felt that she could climb mountains – albeit rather small mountains. They walked into the station together, into the chaos in the main hall. The main hall was filled with women and children, British mostly, or Australian and loudly querulous. The few station staff present looked baffled and defensive. The roar of voices in the railway hall, amplified by the space, was nearly as overwhelming as the racket from the Jap airplanes, buzzing the road from Ipoh.

“Dear God,” Ada breathed. “It’s been the usual cock-up on all sides, Peg. It looks like no one in KL had the faintest clue about an organized evacuation. About typical for this bloody war, I’d say.”

“Shouldn’t we do something?” Peg suggested, hesitantly, but Ada shook her head, and since her hands were full of suitcases, merely jerked her head in the direction of a cluster of women. Two of them at the center of it seemed to be making lists and directing the rest of them here and there.

“I’d say that lot have got it sorted, but I’ll check and see if they need anything else,” Ada set down the suitcases close to the nearest bench, and went to speak to the other women, all of whom appeared as rattled and exhausted as Peg felt. Only Miss Hui seemed impervious to the enervating heat, the sense of subdued panic in the air, and the sheer unpredictability of it all. For this, Peg was grateful; Miss Hui’s calm kept little Tommy on an even keel. She couldn’t think how she would have managed a frightened, tantrum-prone toddler on this horrific day. Now Miss Hui made a seat for herself on the suitcases, with little Tommy half-asleep in her lap. Peg sank onto the bench, her handbag in her lap, a handbag bulging with all the unaccustomed items crammed into it at the last minute.

So many things, all left behind in that frantic few minutes. Nearly three years of her life – her married life with Tommy, all the little bits and pieces of a settled, happy existence, the easy routine of things in the sprawling bungalow – all swept away, but for a few bits in her suitcase. She had been half-asleep, and harried; she would have made a better and more sensible choice of things to take with her, had she been fully awake and thinking more rationally.

The baby turned over and kicked within her. Peg gasped, at once startled and relieved. No hurt taken to what Ada called ‘the sprog’ on this awful, draining day. Now it was Ada returning, with a somewhat lightened expression on her perfect English Rose of a face.

“Not to worry, Peg – they are all mining people, from up-country. Their husbands all work for Anglo-Oriental, and they’re being taken care of – parceled out to the houses of Anglo-Oriental employees here in KL for the term of evacuation. I think we should get a room – I could murder a stengah, or two, and you and the sprog ought to have something to eat, and a good meal. Then,” and Ada’s expression hardened. “I think we should go on to Singapore in the morning. As soon as we can.”